Leadership Spotlight – Margarita Cepeda-Leonardo

Leadership Spotlight - Margarita Cepeda-Leonardo


Ms. Margarita Cepeda-Leonardo has been with UNIDAD of Miami Beach, Inc. since its inception in 1995. From Rhode Island, Margarita initially came to Miami Beach to work on a special project for the League Against AIDS, directing the first large-scale, multi-cultural AIDS awareness event in South Beach through the Art Deco Carnival. She soon found herself in the service of UNIDAD. Under her leadership, the organization has made a great difference in the lives of the citizens of the City of Miami Beach.

Her tenacity has grown the organization from an initial information/referral and immigrant services program to one that operates Miami Beach’s South Florida Workforce Career Center; provides a senior employment and training program; developed an innovative youth development and leadership program – the “New Generation Leadership and Workforce Institute”; organizes an annual holiday toy drive; and provides a variety of cultural arts programs. Her vision resulted in universal dental screening and treatment and nutrition and obesity prevention programs which UNIDAD and partners now provide at Miami Beach elementary schools.

Margarita also oversees a unique customer service training program to businesses and their employees in Miami Beach – “The Customer and You.” With the development of a new oceanfront senior center in Bandshell Park, North Beach, she is embarking upon possibly her greatest challenge and achievement. She was well prepared for this project by the transfer of the Coral Rock House from its previous location to its current location on Normandy Drive and its subsequent renovation to create a community center operated by UNIDAD.

Always cognizant of the critical importance of collaboration, she has also expanded partnership opportunities with other community organizations including but not limited to: AYUDA, City of Miami Beach Housing Authority, Miami Beach Community Development Corporation, Miami Design Preservation League, North Beach Health Coalition, North Beach Development Corporation, Miami Beach Community Health Center, Teen Job Corps and many Miami-Dade County agencies.

Margarita has received awards from the Miami Design Preservation League and the Dade Heritage Trust. She has held appointments with City of Miami Beach Advisory Board of the North Beach Youth Center and the Florida City Administration’s Miami Beach Sister City Committee. She is featured and recognized in a textbook for Florida high school students: “Expresate” Florida Edition, Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Her many talents and skills denote the background she came to us with. In Rhode Island, she founded Quisqueya in Action (QIA – a youth leadership organization), and worked with Hispanic Pro Education – community based organization in the Providence School System and the Rhode Island Community Foundation. She has been featured as an Outstanding Hispanic by National Telemundo Spanish TV; and is noted in the book “Latinas in the United States”: A Historical Encyclopedia, published by Indiana University Press. She has received citizen citations from the Governor of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island State House of Representatives. The Governor of Rhode Island appointed her to the National Community Service Commission, Community Service Plan Development Team. She was appointed by the Mayor of the City of Providence to the Commissioner’s Minority Business and Women Development Enterprise where she helped create the Project LEAD (Latino Economic Advancement & Development) to establish the first Hispanic contractors association. In 2007-2008 she received the Key to the City of Providence presented by Mayor David N. Cicilline during the 20th Anniversary of QIA, for years of service to the community.

The Hermanas of Signma Lambda Upsilon/ of “Señoritas Latinas Unidas” Sorority and Woman’s Development Center of the University of Rhode Island recognized her with a Woman of the Year Award. She has been awarded the University of Rhode Island Honorary Alumni Award for Community Service. She also was a recipient of the Moccasins Leadership Award given by the Boston, Massachusetts national program-based City Year, and the Community Leadership Award from the Providence Chapter of Boy Scouts of America. At the age of 21, she was selected, together with 120 young professionals from across the country, to participate in the National New Generation Leadership Fellowship Program sponsored by Youth Service of America and the Kellogg Foundation. Margarita achieved all this work and recognition by the time she was 25 years old.

Recently in South Florida, awarded the Women of Leadership Award by the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and by the City of Miami Beach Commission for Women Worth Knowing Leadership Award during the Annual Women’s Conference.

Beyond the Miami Beach community, Ms. Cepeda-Leonardo served as the Chairwoman of the Dominican American National Foundation, a national civil rights and community empowerment organization targeting low-income Dominican communities such as Allapattah in Miami. Under her leadership, the Foundation developed a national Roundtable which serves as a leadership development vehicle for the million-person Dominican- American community. The Roundtable has established its office in Washington, DC.

Ms. Cepeda-Leonardo is an accomplished public speaker, having given many keynote addresses in the areas of diversity, community service, and youth and women’s leadership development for the following institutions: Radcliff College, Harvard University and John F. Kennedy Government Institute, City Year National Expansion Conference and Public Service TV Channel 36 in Rhode Island.

Those who have learned from her, those that have worked with her and those that have benefitted from her passion for empowerment and caring, consider themselves fortunate to know her. Her will to assist people in the Miami Beach community is never ending – each year, tens of thousands of citizens use and benefit from the services and programs she has worked so hard to bring to our community. The impact of her efforts in the Miami Beach business community and its workforce are tremendous.

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